Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments, including Greg Rucka’s run and the current “New 52” era. We’re now looking at the earliest Wonder Woman stories by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter, as collected in the paperback Wonder Woman Chronicles vol. 1 or the hardcover Wonder Woman Archives vol. 1.

Well, this one should be a milk run. So to speak.

Sensation Comics #7, DC Comics, July 1942.

Diana Prince is missing! Steve Trevor and his boss, Colonel Darnell, call around to everywhere she was supposed to be, but no one’s seen any sign of her. Steve has a hunch that the villainous Baroness Paula von Gunther is behind it, but he calls the prison and is informed that she was executed in the electric chair a week before. (That’s not at all the way she was shown supposedly dying in Wonder Woman #1, released right around this time, but never mind. Let’s say this takes place before that, for continuity’s sake.)

What happened was, Diana met a woman whose son died undernourished because the family couldn’t afford milk, and her little girl is wasting away the same way. The International Milk Co. has a monopoly on milk and is driving the price up so that poor people can’t afford it. (“Twenty-six cents a quart!” Diana gasps. “That’s outrageous!” Oh, if she only knew.) So she goes to the ludicrously ornate offices of the milk company to confront the president, named—sigh—Alphonso de Gyppo.

Got milk? No? Well, too bad for you, lady.

De Gyppo (sigh) says the company pays farmers a high price to control the supply and drives up the price to compensate, simply throwing away whatever goes unsold, and even so they’re operating a huge loss.  He helpfully shows Diana the $7 million deficit on the books before capturing her so his goons can find out who sent her (even though she already said that she works for US Army Intelligence) and then kill her.

And he seemed like such a nice man, too.

The goons try to drown her in a milk truck, tied up (of course) to a sledgehammer that’s about to prove awfully handy for her grand escape, after she changes to Wonder Woman under the surface. The army of cats converging on the truck after she busts through the milk tank is a particularly nice touch.

I love that one hood’s keen grasp of the law.

For perhaps the first time, Wonder Woman uses her magic lasso for the purpose that it would later become best known for—to compel someone to speak the truth. Technically it’s the lasso’s power to make anyone follow her commands, whatever they may be, that’s making it happen.  They say “a dead woman” is running the milk racket, which points the finger back at the baroness after all.

Great calamity kittens indeed!

Great calamity kittens indeed!

He interrogates the prison doctor with a more standard-issue lie detector, finding out that von Gunther was indeed electrocuted, but that the doctor “gave her body to friends after the execution”—you know, like you do. Wondy decides to lure the baroness out of hiding by orchestrating a huge demonstration against milk price-gouging, enlisting her friend Etta Candy’s women’s college marching band to play.

The people! United! Want their damn milk!

A young woman comes to give WW a message, and she recognizes from the shackle scars on her wrist that she must be one of the baroness’s slave girls. Going willingly into a trap, she allows herself to be chained up by the enemy’s goons. Their gloating about how “real men can outsmart any woman every time” is pretty over the top and amusing.

This part is a little confusing, because it acknowledges Diana’s secret vulnerability—that she loses her strength if men attach chains to her bracelets—but as a “or so they think!’ kind of thing. She lets herself be chained up and feigns weakness, but later busts the chains easily. The reason she can do this is never explained, but it seems that the vulnerability is specific to whether a man welds chains to her bracelets, whereas here they were wrapped around her in a much more halfassed way.

Wondy send a “mental radiogram” to Etta—who, unseen, would have to be physically plugged in to her tabletop “mental radio” to receive it—and she and her sorority sisters come running to the rescue, only to be trapped by the bad guys, who were forewarned about WW’s “army of pretty girls.” The baroness shows up to gloat about her ingenious “electrical machine” she invented to bring her back to life and explains her fiendish master plan—to engineer a “weakened and dwarfed” next generation of American youth that the more robust milk-fed Germans can easily dominate. She’s playing the long game, folks!

Of course, Wonder Woman breaks free and saves the day (and the milk!), forcing the baroness to sign a full confession. “Legally you can’t be executed twice for murder—but you’ll go to prison!” Wondy says, and we’ll just have to trust her wisdom of Athena on that one. Diana Prince’s weird split-personality rivalry with herself continues to manifest in weird ways; now she’s jealous of Wonder Woman not just because Steve’s in love with her but because Wondy gets all the acclaim while no one notices poor little Diana. Never mind that that’s the whole idea of having the secret identity in the first place.  Poor Diana indeed; I think she may be cracking up.

Ah, the sinister puppet master that is Wonder Woman.

Sensation Comics #8, DC Comics, August 1942.

Diana’s new role as a social justice crusader in addition to her Nazi-busting duties continues as she tackles low wages and poor working conditions. The story starts like something out of Les Miserables, as a department store employee is arrested stealing vitamins from her own store for a sick coworker. The judge is inclined to be lenient under the circumstances, but the store manager insists that former employee Helen go to prison.

Someone should hire Spicoli to follow that guy around calling him a dick.

Ailing coworker Molly does get better and go back to work, but then she’s fired after Helen is released and the store manager sees the two of them talking. The women at Bullfinch Department Store demand higher pay and better working conditions, but manager Googins fires the lot of them. In her Diana Prince guise, Wondy tries to appeal to the store owner, the filthy rich Gloria Bullfinch, but she’s unwilling to even talk about it with any filthy commoner, saying her personal agent takes care of petty business manager. Her fiance, fortune hunter Prince Guigi del Slimo (you’ve got to love those names), just eggs her on in her 1% snobbery.

She’s talking about the rabble, darling. The riff-raff.

Diana returns as Wonder Woman, abducting Gloria and hypnotizing her into thinking she’s just a poor shopgirl looking for work. Then she’ll have to go work at Bullfinch like any other plebian (as a scab, no less) and see what it’s like for herself. (As a side note, I love Etta’s enthusiasm when she thinks she has a new sorority member to haze, but alas, she doesn’t get to administer any spankings this time around.)

Down, Etta. This one’s for brainwashing, not for your dungeon of spanky delights.

Now, this might be enough of a story right there—hypnotized into being a completely different person for a work week or whatever, Gloria sees what a terrible place her store is to work and resolves to make it better once she’s restored to herself.  And sure, that happens, but it wouldn’t be a 1940s Wonder Woman story without some extra craziness.

Helen has reached the end of her rope and is planning to rob the store—not that sending young people to jail locks them into a life of crime or anything like that. Some gangsters try to grab Diana, presumably for asking too many questions, and Steve runs after them and (of course) is promptly knocked unconscious. Figuring Gloria’s agent Mr. Doe must be behind Steve’s disappearance, Wondy goes looking for him but is knocked out herself. Then, of course, she’s tied up, but way more thoroughly than usual—bundled up in a ball and locked in a trunk. Even WW is impressed with their tying-up abilities, and as we all know she’s a noted aficionado of such things.

And that’s saying something, because she gets tied up a lot. I mean, a LOT.

As a side note, in one panel she passed by a couple of horribly caricatured African Americans, whose faces were altered to make them slightly less offensive for the reprint in The Wonder Woman Chronicles vol. 1.

Believe it or not, this is the less offensive, cleaned-up version.

Aaaaand here’s the straight-up 1942 version. Sigh.

Eventually even Wonder Woman gets tired of being tied up, so she busts herself and Steve out of the vault they were shut in (with a bomb) by Goggins and Mr. Doe, who’s pretty obviously del Slimo in a domino mask.  Why Gloria hired her fiance in a domino mask and fake name as her agent is a mystery for another day, apparently. Oh, and he’s planning to rob the store too. So when Wonder Woman releases her (kind of messed up) hypnotic hold on Gloria, she’s able to slug the creep and make life better for her workers. The invisible hand of the market sets things right again!

This scene totally happens in the comic. The invisible plane over the logo is a nice touch.

Sensation Comics #9, DC Comics, September 1942.

OK, remember that story in Sensation Comics #1 where we found out that Wonder Woman got her Diana Prince identity from another woman who just happened to look exactly like Wondy, just happened to be a nurse in the army hospital where Wondy’s true love Steve Trevor was being treated, and just happened to have a name that sounded like the most half-assed pseudonym ever for Wondy’s own name, Princess Diana? It’s the kind of story that would have been a fine candidate for the “now let us never speak of it again” treatment, particularly back in the Golden Age when no one cared much about continuity, but whaddaya know, just eight months later, writer William Moulton Marston and artist H.G. Peter brought the original Diana Prince back!

When last we’d seen the real Diana Prince, WW had given her a bunch of money to move to South America, where her fiance had a new job, and went ahead and stole her identity while she was gone.

Now Diana—our Diana, that is, secretly Wonder Woman—is out to dinner with Steve Trevor, which by the way is a big deal for her, when they’re interrupted by some disheveled jerk who acts like he owns her, telling Steve he’d better back off and telling Diana she should be home with their baby. Steve knocks the guy out, managing to squeeze the “keep ‘em flying!” slogan in randomly in the process. Belatedly Diana remembers that Dan White is the name of the other Diana Prince’s fiance, now her husband. It’s also a name that would later live in infamy, but that was still a long way away.

And that’s why you never try to horn in on Steve Trevor’s action, husband or no.

So apparently the other Diana’s back in town, and her jealous husband’s not doing so well. In fact, they’re practically starving, but Dan refuses to let his wife work. He’s banking everything on selling his invention, his “anti-aircraft disintegrator shell” that will dissolve enemy aircraft on contact, but everybody he tries to pitch it to just thinks he’s crazy. His wild eyes and unkempt hair probably don’t help. Deciding someone’s got to feed the family, Diana White decides to take her old life back. And hey, Diana Prince now has a fancy new job as secretary to the army intelligence colonel? Great, she’ll take that too. Wondy doesn’t have the heart to turn her down—and just as an interesting side note, Diana White seems to have forgotten that the new Diana she lent her identity to was actually Wonder Woman, in costume and everything. That’s probably for the best.

Oh, you’re an Amazon princess with a magic lasso and an invisible jet? Yoink! Those are mine, too.

Now with no job, Diana decides to check up on Dan White’s invention by going to his house dressed as his wife. Naturally he’s still stewing about her running out saying that she was going to get a job, so he chains her to the stove and says he’ll do that whenever he goes out. “How thrilling!” Diana says, showing her cards a little too readily.

You could at least put up a show of resistance, Diana. That’s just unseemly.

He goes out to try to sell his invention to the military again, only to be laughed off. Meanwhile, the real Diana White comes home only to be kidnapped! The World Peace Society—clearly a Nazi front like all organizations for peace—demands Dan’s invention as ransom. Wonder Woman arranges for Steve to have the invention tested despite his doubts while she goes off to deliver the ransom to a mystery woman called Agent X. Wondy demands to be taken to Diana White, who’s being kept in the office of a Dr. Cue, who’s developing biological weapons to use against America. But Dr. Cue speaks to her only by television broadcast from an undisclosed location—how to find it? Call Etta Candy on her mental radio, of course!

Just don’t ask what Etta’s spanky sisters are up to in the background there.

This time the radio actually rings like a telephone, which makes a lot more sense than the way it’s been portrayed before, in which the recipient somehow intuits that someone’s trying to call her and then hooks herself up to the machine to receive the message. WW interrupts Etta during some bizarre sorority initiation about which we’re better off not knowing much and has Etta go to Cue’s house and pretend to faint, so that she’ll be taken to the doctor’s secret lab. It turns out the lair is deep underground, where Wondy and Etta’s sorority sisters follow. But wait! Cue’s not there, and neither is the real Diana! With her magic lasso, Wondy makes the Nazi doctor confess that Dr. Cue has planted Diana in the plane that her husband’s disintegrator is being tested on, and if it works she’ll plummet to her death. The plane’s being flown by Agent X, who has the only parachute.

Wonder Woman flies her invisible plane—which is fortunately impervious to Dan’s disintegrator gas—to save Diana in mid-plummet and capture Agent X along the way. But wait! Agent X is secretly Dr. Cue in a mask, and Dr. Cue is secretly Colonel Ku, a Japanese spy!  How can this be?  Well, whoever he is, he’s captured now, and crazy old macho man Dan now has a job making disintegrator shells for the army, which means he can keep his wife chained up all he wants, and Wondy can keep her job and secret identity of Diana Prince.

I wonder if the wisdom of Athena can earn me the coveted MRS degree!

“I’m glad to get my position back,” she tells the other Diana. “But I envy yours, as wife and mother.” Because being married to a semi-abusive caveman who’s too unbalanced to keep a job long sure beats being a heroic pinnacle of superhuman achievement any day.

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